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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Finland 8th-18th July 2010,
Having withstood blizzards, gales and torrential rain in late May 2000, we felt it was about time we returned to see if the weather in Finland was always that bad. This time our visit coincided with the hottest summer for 75 years. We had a little bit of rain on one day, but otherwise skies were blue and the temperature was in the high twenties.
Being constrained to school holidays (one of us teaches) we missed the best time for owls, but still managed to see some excellent birds.
We flew from Milan to Oulu via Helsinki with Finnair. The return flight cost 400 euros per person.
Getting around by car is easy anywhere in Finland. Many roads are unmetalled but these gravel tracks have a good, hard surface and are surprisingly smooth to ride on. Beware if you see a branch sticking out of the road: it marks the place where the road has been washed away. Don’t attempt to drive over the branch!
All the usual hire car firms are represented at the airport and we chose Europcar.
We used the Insight Travel Map of Scandinavia and Finland, a larger scale map of Oulu published by the Tourist Office that we picked up from the airport, a route guide and map published by Liminganlahti Visitor Centre (www.liminganlahti.fi) and a map of the Kuusamo area available in all hotels in the area.
We also used Dave Gosney’s excellent, though rather dated guide to Finding Birds in Finland. (e.g. Yellow-breasted Buntings no longer breed in Finland)
There are no health issues in Finland, other than biting insects which can be a nuisance. We covered up, used bug hats and insect repellent. You can buy bug hats from big supermarkets for about 1 euro which may be a good idea for those people who have “sweet blood”.
7th July – arrival and installation in the Airport Hotel, Oulu.
8th July - Liminganlahti Marshes
9th July – Hirvisuo Bog, Iijoki River, Letonniemi Bird Tower and Oulu Oil Port
10th July – Kiviniemi Tower, Tauvo Point, Forests between
11th July - Hirvisuo Bog, Ala-Kikta Tower near Ruka (Kuusamo)
12th July – Valtavaara, Alakitka Tower, Nissinvaara Lake
13th July – Iivaara, Valtavaara, Kuusamo Lake, “Jake Snipe” Tower
14th July – Ruka, Kuusamo, Riekki (on the Russian border)
15th July – Oulanka National Park
16th July – Travel from Kuusamo to Oulo, Hietasaari and Rieti bird towers at Oulo
17th July – Liminganlahti Marshes, return to Milan
We spent a day with a guide from Finnature in the Kuusamo area.
The airport hotel backed onto the marshes surrounding Kemeleenlahti bay. At various times from the hotel and from short walks on firm trails through the marsh, we saw Caspian, Common and Arctic Terns, Common and Wood Sandpiper, Great Crested Grebe, Greylag Geese, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Oystercatcher, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Snipe, Curlew, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Bearded Tit. Sedge Warblers were very common and sang incessantly from any bit of reed. A roding Woodcock patrolled his territory each evening. Pied and Spotted Flycatchers in the hotel garden.
Access: Leave the motorway (4) at junction 6 and take the road towards the airport. As you approach the airport, you will see the sign for the hotel directing you to the right. Go into the hotel car park, walk through the garden to the back and you will see the notice board for the marshes and the duckboards. Follow the boards to the tower. There is another tower in the same area which can be reached by walking along the path through the marsh from the first tower. Another good place to scan the bay is to go back to the entrance of the hotel and follow the road to where it ends in a marina. Walk along the jetty and scan from there.
Liminganlahti Marshes (8th July)
A word of warning: bird towers and hides are often not easy to find. They are indicated by wooden signs carved with the word LINTUTORI which were usually cunningly hidden in the vegetation.
The hide indicated on the map at Akionlahti Lake, Oulo looks as if it had never been built. In general, maintenance to the duck board trails and reserve facilities was poor.
There is supposed to be a hide at Kylanpuoli in the northern corner of Liminganlahti marshes, but we never found it. Instead, we started birding at hide 2 near Selkamaa. Access: Leave the motorway from Oulu at junction 3, signposted to Tupos. Cross the 847 and the railway line and then turn south towards Liminka. After the road to Vesikari, then is a track on the right signposted Linuturi. Follow this track almost to the end. 30m before the end of the road, you need to turn to the right over a bridge and continue another 30m to the car park. There is then a 2km walk along poorly maintained duckboards. The reeds grow right up to the board walk, so if they are wet with rain, mist or dew, you get soaked.
But the birds make up for everything and we saw: Bittern, Red-breasted Merganser, White-tailed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Crane, Greenshank, Spotted Redshank. Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Little Gull, Teal, Wigeon, Whooper Swan, Sedge Warbler, Arctic Tern, Scaup, Black-tailed Godwit, Sparrowhawk, Blythe’s reed Warbler.
Hide 1 near the information centre in Virkkula on the 813. The road on your right is signposted Liminganlahti. There is a bird tower at the information centre (open 12.00 – 18.00) From here you can see over fields which would be good for geese in winter. While we were there, 18 Cranes were feeding. Follow the boardwalk to the shore and after 100m there is a platform looking out over the marshes. After another 400 there is a hide, which again would be good during the winter. After another 300m you arrive at the tower on the shore. We added Ringed Plover, Red-breasted Merganser, Scaup, Common Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Cormorant and Sparrowhawk to our list.
Hide 4 is on the north-west corner of the bay. Return to road 813 and continue west for 2kms. The track is signposted Lintutori. Birds seen here included a nice pair of Red-backed Shrikes and a singing Blackcap.
We then spent an hour trying to find the lake behind Oulu airport to no avail. But we did pick up 50 or more Sand Martins in a quarry. Was the quarry once the lake?
Hirvisuo Bog is 45kms out of Oulu on road 20. Coming from Oulu, after the turning to Kivela, look out for the reserve car park and sign on the north side of the road. There are toilets (leave the door open afterwards so that the swallows can return to their nest) and a little shop where you can buy snacks and drinks. A board walk through pine leads to the bird tower and you have a fantastic view over the bog. If at first nothing seems to be around, have patience. Careful scanning revealed Whooper Swan, Crane, Peregrine, Honey Buzzard, Tree Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat. Returning the following day added Curlew, Teal and stunning views of a Hobby perched on a small pine.
With some detours down forest tracks, we followed the river from Kipina to Ii.and then drove down the coast to Letonniemi bird tower to the north of Oulu.
Access to LETONNIEMI bird tower. Leave the motorway 4 at junction 12 and head west towards Taskila on the 847. At the second set of lights turn left into Rajahaudantie. Go to the end of the road and park in the marina car park. The start of the board walk to the tower (1.6km) is at the far left-hand end of the car park as you standing facing the water. The trees have grown up since the tower was built and the view from the top is obscured by trees but we did add 3 Goosander to our list.
The area around the Oil Port has been built up and there were no signs of puddles for Terek Sandpipers to nest in. However, someone has been fighting a valiant rear guard action to protect the nesting area of Temminck’s Stint and you are asked not to enter some areas where the 2 roads Jaasalonite meets Poikimaantie.
Access to the Oil Port Leave the motorway at junction 7 and turn west. You pass a stadium on the left. Continue until you see a small lake on the left. Park here.
In the alder trees on the side of the road, a group of Siskin was feeding, the males looking very dapper in their breeding plumage.
In an inlet at the end of Poikimaantie were families of Wigeon and Goldeneye while on the shore was a family of Yellow Wagtails and a Northern Wheatear.
Kiviniemi Bird Tower (10th July)
Access is from the road 847 at Kaakkuri.
From the motorway (4) take the exit at junction 6.At the first set of lights, turn right (north) onto the 847. At the second set of lights, turn left: signposted “Villentie and Uimaranto”. Park at the end of this road. Don’t go too far as the sand is very soft. You will be able to see the tower from here. Houses back onto the shore. Walk along the bottom of the gardens until you come to the first house with a grey (instead of red) roof. Opposite is a very overgrown boardwalk which goes into the reeds towards the tower. Get ready for another soaking from the reeds.
Birds seen here included Red-breasted Merganser, Wood Sandpiper, Snipe, Ringed Plover, Greylag, Whooper Swan, Wigeon and Whitethroat.
Tauvo Point (10th July) south west of Oulo, is well worth a visit just for the view.
Access is from the 813. It is well signposted to the west after the village of Merikyla.
When we visited it, the conditions were not suitable for a good sea watch, but we did pick up Red-breasted Merganser and Caspian Tern. In the woods behind the beach were Common Redstart, Crested Tit and Siskin.
From Tauvo we took a meandering route through the forests back to Oulu. The honking call of cranes alerted us to a pair as they flew by. We also picked up Goldfinch which is rare for this area and spent a few minutes watching a soaring Goshawk.
Oulu Dump. (10th July)
This is open from 07.00 – 21.00 Tuesday – Friday, 08.00 – 15.00 on Monday.
Access is from the motorway. Exit the motorway at junction 10 and take the direction for Kuusamo. At the first junction, follow the signs for Rusko. Take the 4th road on the right (the first after the railway line), signposted to Ruskonniitty. This is the dump. There is a hole in the perimeter fence along the road which runs on the right from the entrance. I’m sure you are not supposed to get into the dump here.
We had no signs of owls, but the there was the huge, expected crowd of gulls loafing about and an unexpected oystercatcher. A female Marsh Harrier looked as if she had just stuffed down at least 4 of the large brown rats which were running everywhere.
The various forests, meadows and lakes along the road to Kuusamo are worth scanning. We found a family of goldfinch feeding on some thistles along Papaluontie road which, if accepted, will be the first record for breeding goldfinch in the Kuusamo area.
Ala-Kikta Tower is north of Ruka. (11th July)
Access. Take road 5 out of Ruka and after 5kms take the road on the left towards Kitka. After 3 kms take the track on the right to the tower, signed to Kaukasari. As we arrived, a pair of Whoopers were mooching around in the reeds while a brand-new Goldeneye brood dived for cover. A pair of Black-throated Divers were unconcerned and performed with great elegance in front of us for 15 minutes. In the same area we had good views of a Waxwing and tantalizing glimpses of Crossbill parents feeding their demanding young. The call was much lower pitched than the normal Crossbill song and for a while we thought that we had found Parrot Crossbills, but after checking a recording of the song we reluctantly agreed that they were probably Red Crossbills.
Nissinvaara Lake (12th July) can be viewed easily lay-bys along road 5. Some lakes in the area seemed to have no birds on them at all, while others have some interesting fauna. Most unfortunately, have muskrat on them. These animals were imported from the USA in the 1950s for their fur, escaped and predictably, have become a pest. But the birds were good: Whooper Swan, Smew, Goldeneye – many with flotillas of young, White-tailed Eagle, Wigeon, Arctic and Common Tern. We returned here the following day to see a Velvet Scoter with young. (next lake to the south of the “Wigwam” car park).
In the woods in the area were Crossbill, Siskin, Fieldfare, Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Waxwing and Tree Pipit. Swifts, Swallow and House Martin were common overhead. We were shown an Osprey nest with young from one of the car parks near the lake.
Valtavaara (12th July) is accessed from road 5 going north out of Ruka. At the Viipus campsite, turn right onto road 8694 signposted to Virkkula. The road climbs up and at the top of the hill park in the car park on the left. The slopes to either side of the road are prime sites for Red-flanked Bluetails. Unfortunately, our visit was too late in the year to hear (or see) any singing males. However, good woodland birds can be seen along the trails to either side of the road and we did see a family of Hazel Grouse. Also seen or heard were Waxwing, Crossbill, Redpoll, Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin, Greater-spotted Woodpecker and Pine Grosbeak. When we returned the following day to a site on the north side of the road we had stunning views of Hawk Owl as it responded to playback. The car park is a well known site for Siberian Jay. Scatter some bread under the trees at 21.00 and sit quietly. The jays will appear quietly to eat your offering. They were quite unconcerned about people just a few metres away.
We visited three bird-watching towers around Kuusamo itself. (12th, 13th July) Access is from the roundabout where roads 5 and 20 meet. Take the road towards the centre of Kuusamo and immediately turn right into Torangivaital. At the T junction after 20m turn right. Take the 4th road on the left (Torankijarventie). After 1.5 kms you will pass the tower. Continue for 50m to a car park then walk back to the tower along a track through the reeds. We were amused to read that in 1991 the lower steps were missing. They were still missing in 2010. But think light thoughts and scramble up since the birds to be seen from the top are worth it. We were joined here by two delightful girls, about 8 and 10 years old. They giggled at our stupidity in not understanding basic Finnish and shared our lunch. This says a lot about Finnish culture: two young girls out on their own were happy to accept food from 2 complete strangers. How different it would be in Britain.
Access to the second tower is to find the church in the centre of Kuusamo. With the church on your left, continue south out of the town. Take the first road on the left and you will see the tower.
To get to the third tower go back to the roundabout where the roads 5 and 20 meet. Turn towards the town and immediately turn to go past the Kmarket supermarket. Go round the outside of the supermarket and keep left. At the next T junction turn right and then opposite a low grey building (currently a car show room) turn right onto a short track (10m) with a sewage farm at the end. Park outside the gate to the sewage farm (it is sometimes closed which would be a bit awkward if your car was still inside it) then walk past the sewage farm following the path between 2 rows of birch trees to the marsh. You will see the tower on your left.
From these towers collectively, we saw Red-necked Grebe, Black-throated Diver, Goosander, Smew, Goldeneye, Wigeon, Mallard, Pintail, Tufted Duck, White-tailed Eagle, Arctic and Common Tern. A bit of excitement was added when a Honey Buzzard was mobbed by a Kestrel.
We were told about another tower which was good for displaying Jack Snipe and Broad-billed Sandpiper at about 22.00.
Access. (13th July) The Tower is east of Ruka on about 10kms of gravel tracks. Drive down from the centre of Ruka and turn left, away from the main road. After 0.9km turn right towards Rukajarvi then left after 2.7km onto Matosuonitie. After 4.5kms turn left and take the left fork 4.9 km after that. After 3.7kms you will see a black sign to Antinperon. Turn left here and park. Follow the board walk to the hide. We saw neither of the target birds but a family of Cranes kept us occupied.
Iivaara RESERVE (13th July)
Access The reserve is well-signposted from the 866 5km south of Kuusamo towards Lamsankyla. After 5km turn right onto an unmade road signposted towards Iivaara. After 20km the car park for the reserve is singposted with a black sign on the left. The walk into the reserve can be seen from the car park. We were shown a site that had 4 singing Red-flanked Bluetails but sadly, none were singing when we were there. We did manage good views of Rustic Buntings here in the low-lying boggy area.
RIEKKI (14th July)
The roads from Kuusamo to Riekke on the Russian border are worth travelling slowly, stopping to scan lakes, forests and bogs. We found Whimbrel and a feisty Merlin attacking a pair of Ravens put on a splendid display. The tower on the 8692 south of Vuontunki is also worth a visit.
Access Heading south from Vuontunki go down to hill to the lake. Look out for the black Lintutori sign on the right and park in the car park.
We had Black-throated Diver and Velvet Scoter in addition to the more usual waterfowl.
OULANKA NATIONAL PARK (15th July)
Access The park is well signed off road 5, 20kms north of Ruka. Aim for the hamlet of Kayla and keep straight on. The reserve has an excellent exhibition and good facilities. A cuppa was very welcome after hiking the 2 trails. We followed the Rytisuon and Hiidenlammen nature trails (= luontopoiku). There was a good selection of woodland birds. 2 Siberian Jays came to see what we were doing when we were trying to entice a Black Woodpecker to come nearer. Meanwhile, a Common Buzzard mewed overhead and a pair of Three-toed Woodpeckers amused us by climbing down the trunks of trees as they searched for food. A party of Waxwings stayed in view for 5 minutes and a family of 5Ravens flew by with the youngsters being typical juveniles and making a lot of noise.
We had been told about a possible site for Slavonian Grebe at a lake west of Piilopera on road 5. After some scanning straight into the sun we found a single bird.
Hietasaari Bird tower, Oulu (16th July)
Access Exit the motorway at junction 10 and continue on road 20 towards the sea (direction Hietasaaari). You will go through several sets of lights. After crossing the river, bear left on Hietasaarentie. After crossing another smaller river, take the third road on the right: Vaaskiventie.Park at the far end of the road. Walk a few metres along the cycle track to the right and you will see the tower. There was the usual collection of water birds here including Greater Black-backed Gull, Merganser, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover and Snipe.
RIETI BIRD TOWER
Access You either walk south 1km along the cycle track from Hietsaari bird tower or drive by returning to Hietasaarentie and turning right (south). After 1km right, just before the road is closed by a gate. Walk 500m from the car park along the cycle track to the tower. The birds were the same as at Hietasaari.
Have you ever wondered what they do when they are not pulling Santa’s sleigh? If you don’t want to know, skip to the systematic list. Those of you with a curious nature will be delighted to learn that our intrepid investigator managed to get a first hand account of what these gentle, dim-witted creatures do in summer.
This is what Dasher said: “I’m so happy – wandering down the road. It’s good this, trotting along a white line. I wonder what it’s like to trot in the other direction? Oh yeah! It’s much better going in this direction! Um…maybe I prefer the other way after all. Look! There’s another white line over there. This one is really cool…. And there’s another one over there. Think I’ll have a go on that one too. Phew, all this trotting on white lines has made me hot. Think I’ll have a scratch on this metal box thing to shed some of my winter coat… up a bit,… now left…that’s it…aahhh! All that scratching and trotting has made me sleepy. I’ll just settle down here for a snooze. That’s odd – there are people sitting inside the metal box. I wonder why they are shouting? Can’t be anything I’ve done!”
Great Crested Grebe
White-tailed Sea Eagle
European Sparrow Hawk
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Sand Martin (Bank Martin)
Blythe's Reed Warbler
Pine Grosbeak (heard)
129 species in total